Comments on: Column: A New Agenda for the DDA it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Thu, 19 Jun 2014 18:27:10 +0000 Re: “Unless there was some other “agreement” between the taxing authorities, it would have been more natural to use the word “ordinance.” So that indicates the taxing authorities came to some agreement that superseded the ordinance. My initial foray into the Bentley archives didn’t turn up such an agreement.”

We made requests of the Ann Arbor DDA and the city of Ann Arbor under Michigan’s FOIA for the “agreement” to which the column heading refers. The DDA’s response was to indicate that the DDA had no responsive document in its possession. The city’s response appears to be a copy of the original 1982 TIF plan. Based on those responses, either there was no agreement among the taxing authorities – separate and apart from the original TIF plan and ordinance – or else no one has retained a copy.

By: Lyn Davidge Lyn Davidge Fri, 13 Jun 2014 19:13:31 +0000 Right, I knew about the Scio DDA and should have been more explicit about which one in my question. Thanks for the quick turnaround!

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Fri, 13 Jun 2014 19:03:41 +0000 Just to clarify what most readers probably already know, only properties in a defined area contribute TIF and only on new development.

Scio’s DDA, as far as I know, is essentially the Jackson Road corridor. It has been in place for a long time.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Fri, 13 Jun 2014 19:00:04 +0000 Re: (emphasis added) “Oh, well! Do the AADL taxes that I pay on my Scio Twp. property get TIFed off for the DDA, or, being a city entity, can the DDA only get TIF from taxes paid to the city?”

This is a good chance to highlight the fact that the Ann Arbor DDA is just that – “a downtown development authority,” namely the DDA established by the city of Ann Arbor, which can capture some of the taxes in a defined area of downtown Ann Arbor. But your Scio Twp. library taxes do get TIFed by “the DDA” – because Scio Twp. also has a DDA.

By: Lyn Davidge Lyn Davidge Fri, 13 Jun 2014 18:49:41 +0000 Why haven’t I thought to ask this before?? Oh, well! Do the AADL taxes that I pay on my Scio Twp. property get TIFed off for the DDA, or, being a city entity, can the DDA only get TIF from taxes paid to the city?

By: John Floyd John Floyd Fri, 13 Jun 2014 18:42:50 +0000 After reading this article, an obvious candidate for DDA membership – and for its chairmanship in particular – comes to mind, but appointing this candidate might compromise the ability of The Chron to cover the DDA sans conflict of interest.

While a summer evening, among companions, in a beer garden, is a glorious thing, for the DDA it may be best held out as a (privately funded) reward for properly taking care of business. It’s not obvious, from this article anyway, that this reward has been earned.

@2 Mr. Haynor,

I am flabbergasted to read that historic preservation is, quite explicitly, one of the charges of a DDA in the State of Michigan. Does anyone on the DDA realize this? As any regular reader of The Chron knows, there is no substitute for actually reading the statutes. Thank you for bringing this to light.

@4 Mr. Bean,

Points well made.

@6 Mr. Eaton

I applaud your call for greater council oversight of the DDA – as does the State Tax Tribunal, apparently. To take your point one step further, it strikes me that the issue is not the force current members of the DDA to do their jobs, but rather, to have on the DDA people who actually want to do them. If it takes a poke in the pants by council to get work done, better to replace current members with a coalition of the willing, rather than expend energy on poking the reluctant.

The work of the DDA could equally as well be done if it were a city department. This would require that we stop stealing money from WCC and the library, and stop diverting taxes voters approved for purpose “A” to unrelated purpose “B”, while the city still pays for all the bonds it issued to fund DDA projects. However, it would put the good work of the DDA directly under city council & the city manager, just like street paving, public safety, and parks – with whom the DDA would now compete for public funding. To me, this is a worth-while tradeoff.

@7 Mr. Askins,

Thank you for following up with the State Tax Tribunal. Have you raised this issue before? I don’t recall reading of it here.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Fri, 13 Jun 2014 16:17:37 +0000 As a followup to the question of who is ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with the state statute, the statute itself empowers the state tax commission with some authority: “The state tax commission may institute proceedings to compel enforcement of this act.”

On Jan. 2, 2014, we forwarded a request to the state tax commission that it exercise its authority under the DDA Act – with respect to several issues, including the question of the development plan that does not include cost estimates or time frames for projects. [.pdf of Jan. 2, 2014 request of the tax commission]

The tax commission declined to act on the request to investigate and to collect more information, but also made clear that the commission was not thereby expressing a view that the Ann Arbor DDA was in compliance.

From the Jan. 22, 2014 letter from the state tax commission executive director, Kelli Sobel:

Our review indicates that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority matters identified do not rise to the level requiring State Tax Commission intervention.

The decision not to proceed with an investigation of these matters does not constitute a decision regarding the compliance of the City of Ann Arbor and the DDA with the Downtown Development Authority Act, only a belief that there are more appropriate arenas for such review.

I think that one of the “arenas for such review” is the context provided by the regular business of the Ann Arbor city council. This is just a very long way of re-iterating the point that the city council could play a positive oversight role here. But to pick up Steve Bean’s point: The council as a group can’t play a role unless individual members of the council take specific action.

By: Jack Eaton Jack Eaton Thu, 12 Jun 2014 20:21:36 +0000 Re (5) I agree with your point that it was the City Council of 2003 that had the ultimate responsibility for complying with the statutory requirements for a development plan. I cannot say for sure whether I would have noticed those requirements when asked to approve the extension of the DDA charter had I been a member of Council then.

I am not seeking to convey a message of destruction by asking whether Board members who fail to draft a development plan that complies with the statute could be removed. I think it would be helpful to know whether the DDA Board’s failure to accept a recommendation from Council to draft a development plan would be a material breach of their duties that potentially could cause removal.

My recollection of the conflict over the proper way to calculate the former limitation on the growth of the DDA’s TIF capture makes me believe that a polite request might not be enough to get the desired outcome. A polite request with the knowledge that a failure to act would be treated as a breach of their duties might be treated differently.

I often hear from residents who would like to dissolve the DDA. I happen to think the DDA still has the potential to be a constructive partner in shaping policy in out downtown.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:55:11 +0000 Jack, you ask: “First, does the DDA Board’s failure to comply with the MCL 125.1667 development plan requirements constitute the statutory “for cause” basis for removing DDA Board members?”

This “failure” is not the responsibility solely of the DDA – because the development plan I’ve analyzed in this column as deficient was approved by the city council of 2003. Ultimately, it’s the 2003 edition of the city council that I think did not exercise adequate oversight to ensure that the renewal plan it was authorizing met the basic statutory requirements. Granted the council of that era was likely keen to see a DDA that had as much flexibility as possible to provide the city with funds. So the development plan approved by the council in 2003 fit that goal of a flexible DDA.

So I don’t see how it makes any sense at all to contemplate throwing anyone off the current DDA board for a decision that the city council ultimately made 10 years ago. I think Sally Petersen got it right during a joint council DDA board committee meeting in fall 2013 when she said about a related topic that appeared to her that “… it’s just that the city council historically has not held the DDA accountable …” [.pdf of committee meeting transcript]

Rather than contemplating the elimination of the DDA as suggested in [2] or throwing people off the DDA board as suggested in [3], I think a positive role that could be played by city councilmembers would be to provide firm encouragement to the DDA to take some specific steps towards putting the DDA on a more rigorous foundation of governance. For example, part of the city council’s message to the DDA could be: “We’d like you to put together a development plan that meets the specific criteria in the statute – for which your recently created five-year planning document could provide a foundation. And when you do we’d like to approve its inclusion in the TIF plan.” That sort of message might inspire a DDA board to roll up its sleeves and get that task done.

On the other hand, if councilmembers’ first thought is to wonder how DDA board members can be thrown off the board, then the only message that some board members might hear is: “We will destroy you.”

By: Steve Bean Steve Bean Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:52:00 +0000 Re: #3, the question that comes to mind for me is whether the current board (or staff) makeup includes the necessary skill set for the creation of a good development plan. Government and non-profit administration, small business/retail operation, real estate, law—are those likely to be adequate to plan for a very different future?

Now would be a great time for the DDA to take a year or so (while the stock market tumbles and the economy follows it down) to put together a plan, pay off debt, and otherwise hold onto their reserves. Well thought out investments and policies could actually make a difference for the local economy in the years that follow. I’d put the transition to DDA district-wide rooftop solar electricity generation and distributed storage at the top of the list (with a concurrent requirement for efficient machinery, lighting, etc.).